By now many Ricochet readers will have had their attention drawn both to the alarming statistics released on poverty today and to the excellent Heritage Foundation study on what constitutes “poverty” in America. On the one hand, poverty has certainly increased under President Obama. On the other hand, poverty is being so loosely defined as to become virtually meaningless. Of course, the political capital to be gained by statistics related to poverty almost always redounds to the advantage of the Left. Or so it has until now.
As the Heritage Foundation points out, though, virtually all households living in poverty have a refrigerator, a television, and a stove and oven. The vast majority have air conditioning, a microwave, a DVD player, and cable television. Almost forty percent have a personal computer; a third have more than two televisions; thirty percent have a video game system; and 22% have more than one DVD player. These figures are for 2005, by the way, the horrible Bush years.
Such statistics are confirmation of what Adam Smith said long ago. An “improved” commercial society, relying principally on the workings of the market, may distribute wealth unequally (the rich are much richer than the poor); but that is better than all being equal in squalor. And even the poorest people living in commercial society will be better off than the wealthiest and the rulers of unimproved society.
These facts lead me to the inescapable conclusion that the poor should be poorer in America. I mean that in two senses. First, as the Heritage Foundation report urges, we need to redefine poverty to be in line with what most people imagine when they hear the word: that the impoverished are suffering from want of food, housing, clothing, and other basic necessities. The line “30 million Americans are living in poverty” is nothing more than fodder for demagogic Democrats.
Yet I mean this in a second sense. We should look at these figures and be outraged at the welfare state. My household does not have a “non-portable stereo,” though 49% of the “poor” do. My home has only one television, though a third of the “poor” have more than two. I do not have a printer, though 27.9% of the “poor” do. Should we—you and I, as taxpayers—pay for the poor to live with more luxuries than we have in many cases? What incentive do the poor have to get off the dole if their food is paid for with food stamps, their health care is paid for through WIC and other programs, and their daycare is paid for through “early childhood” centers masquerading as schools? The poor should be poorer in America (i.e. have their social programs cut) so they will have an incentive to quit feeding at the public trough. What would happen then to the “poor”? What would then happen—according to Econ 101—is that the money saved from no longer “helping” the poor might actually be invested by people who understand markets in order to create more and better jobs. There would be fewer poor. Republicans can win on this issue. Reagan did.